Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tahoe Rim Tour Snowshoe Race

Showing up to a Nordic race with snowshoes in hand is kind of like being an ultrarunner at a triathlon. You are surrounded by slim, fit athletes with the very best, top-of-the-line gear their niche sport has to offer. And you? You’re wearing a down jacket and a pair of ragged Nike tights and feeling a little self-conscious about how they make your butt look. Or maybe that’s just me.

This was the scene at the start of last weekend’s Tahoe Rim Tour, a half-marathon ski and snowshoe race from Tahoe City to Northstar resort in Truckee. In the 20 degree morning chill, I made my way towards registration across a parking lot full of lanky skiers. I plowed through a sea of Craft tights, Toko tops, and approximately a thousand Swix beanies. Don’t forget your Swix beanie!

I immediately found my friend Helen, who was signed up for the classic ski division, and confessed, “You know, I kind of wish I was skiing since I know I would finish faster, but at the same time, I’m glad I’m not, since all these people would kick my butt!” She nodded in sympathy.

At least I know my place—and that’s with the runners. The one’s who aren’t coordinated enough to be real skiers.

I found myself standing around, a bit lost because I don’t know anything about wax. Seriously, you can’t have a conversation with a Nordic skier before a race unless you know how to talk about wax. What colors, how many layers, klister or no klister. People were busy with last minute scraping and buffing, running fingers across perfect bases.

One skier did ask me about my snowshoes though, and I was happy to feign my expertise on the subject for him.

Eventually I found Jamie and Jack at the registration table, and we all made our way to the start, where we gladly let the skiers take the lead.

I had hemmed and hawed about even entering a snowshoe race this far, since my previous two racing experiences on snowshoes, both 5K, showed me the challenges of this sport. Last year Jamie had horror stories about how hard this race had been, so I couldn’t believe she was back for more. She didn’t bother trying to talk me into it, but her mere presence shamed me into showing up. Having a training partner who’s tougher than me is such a good thing!

As it turned out, we set a decent, but reasonable, pace, and Jamie and I ran together the whole way. All we did was talk and run. It was perfect! There weren’t a ton of snowshoers, but we spent our entire two hours and thirteen minutes gradually catching and passing many of them.

The weather was perfect—partly sunny, warm, but cool enough to maintain firm trail conditions. Fast!

In the last mile, I finally decided to catch this man in a blue top whom we had been seeing for the past hour. I was annoyed at the fact that he hadn’t been getting any closer to us! I kicked it up a notch and caught up to him. I immediately confessed that I’d been trying to catch him forever. There wasn’t time for a response before he zoomed ahead of me again. Ha! I was actually quite enjoying the chase.

I had nothing at all at stake, so I gave it another go. We were flying downhill, and my only concern was that I might trip and fall—a real possibility!

I caught up to him one more time, but in the end, I never did pass the guy. After we crossed the finish line, we immediately exchanged high-fives and smiles. Clearly we’d both enjoyed ourselves. I love early-season fun at races!

Post-race activities included a chili-fest, some sitting in the sun with friends, and a huge number of raffle prizes. Cash prizes were given away to skinny young people who all seemed to have names like Bjorn and Hans, and snowshoers got cash prizes, too. I came away with a sweet pair of insulated Salamon Nordic gloves.

After Jamie left, conversation seemed to center around wax again, and I decided it was time to bail. I caught the free shuttle back to the start, and realized that maybe this snowshoeing thing isn’t so bad when you have a friend to run with.

Thanks to all the skiers for putting up with the goofy snowshoers on the trail, and thanks to Farwest Nordic and Northstar for a beautiful January day!


  1. Well that's something you never see down here in San Diego. Sounds like it really was 2+ hours of pure fun ... and fitness. What a workout!

  2. Anne - Yup, total fun! Having appropriate snowshoes designed for running also helped make it more fun and less struggle. Go figure.

  3. You did not get a Swix Beanie for a prize? :)
    This race sounds fantastic. I do Nordic skiing (some) I do snowshoeing (some). I can't imagine what fantastic shape you must be in to run a half in snowshoes.
    BTW, how was snow? Seems at least in South Lake Tahoe that is vanishing pretty fast. We are hoping to do go snowshoeing in Feb but I don't see any snowfall in the forecast.
    Congrats on a great race.

  4. What fun! I would love to do a snowshoe race one day. Great job hangin' tough amongst the ski peeps :-)

  5. Ewa - I nordic ski too, actually. I just have old, second-hang gear, and dismal techinque, so you know ... I get my butt kicked. But it's all fun! I tease about the Nordic skiers out of envy. Easier on the downhills than snowshoeing, that's for sure!

    The snow is actually still quite good. It's been a dry January, but with so much early season snow, the trails are still in great shape. Skate-ski in the morning when it's firm, downhill in the afternoon when the corn forms. It's just like spring!

    Paige - Come on out for a snowshoe race any time!

  6. Gretchen, thanks for a blog that is read all around the globe. Greetings from Germany! Katerina

  7. Katerina - Cool! You're welcome, and thanks for reading!!

  8. Oh yes, that was the best snowshoe race ever. Great story and thank goodness we don't have to think about wax.

  9. Gretchen, great to see you at the start! The WAX, and those XC skiers - yes, there were a lot of those folks walking around with their chests puffed out prior to the start. Much like the start of, well, a trail runner ultra-marathon! Or one of my bike races. Thanks for keeping my mrs from calling me in tears, like she did last year. Way to go!

  10. Great little story about the race Gretchen, and the pictures go good with it! It was a fun day with great friends. Glad we snowshoers don't have to mess with the wax combinations! :0

  11. I <3 Northstar! It's such a chilled resort!

  12. I love, love, love, love those moments when a stranger won't let you go! That's what the elite guys (the guys who it's not seen as being in bad taste to actually be competitive) must love so much about racing.

    I don't know jack about snowshoeing races other than you run around with tennis rackets on your feet, but it's always cool to hear about a sport I know nothing about. And I'm sure that as long as the granny panties stayed at home, you looked great in your tights.

  13. Jamie - Definitely a great day. Thanks for running with me and making it all seem so easy. Just another awesome Tahoe day!

    Jim - I think the weather and trail conditions, (and lack of unmarked turns) were probably more helpful than me in avoiding tears, but it was super awesome to have Jamie to run with. Honestly, I wouldn't have even shown up to the start if not for her.

    Runner11 - Thanks for the pictures! Hardly any of mine came out. Awesome day!

    Stuart - Yeah, I appreciate that Northstar is totally lacking in those "I am the coolest, get out of my way" type skiers that are so prevalent at a certain other Tahoe resort which shall remain nameless. ;)

    Claire - Running around with tennis rackets on your feet pretty much sums it up. It's kind of a silly sport that way, which is why I feel like such a nerd compared to the skiers, but whatever keeps me running in the winter!